Heat Gun vs. Chemical Paint Remover: Which to Use? - Handyman's World (2023)

Heat Gun vs. Chemical Paint Remover: Which to Use? - Handyman's World (1)

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If you need to remove paint from a surface, primarily from a wooden surface, there are a few options at your disposal. Two common methods of stripping paint from wooden surfaceinclude using heat guns or chemical paint removers.

So, if you had to choose between using a heat gun and a chemical paint remover, which should you go with?

Heat Guns and Chemical Paint Removers: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the pros and cons of both of these paint removal methods, let’s quickly describe how each one works.

Heat Guns

First, when it comes to heat guns, these are seen as being quick and easy to use. These look like bulky guns that come complete with a heating element on the inside, as well as a fan to blow hot air out of the front opening. They are similar to hairdryers.

When excessive amounts of heat come into contact with paint, the paint will dry, crack, shrivel, and peel off. The heat loosens the layers of paint, which can then easily be removed with some sort of scraping tool.

Heat Gun vs. Chemical Paint Remover: Which to Use? - Handyman's World (2)

Chemical Paint Removers

Chemical paint removers work thanks to the specific ingredients that they contain, usually methylene chloride. With chemical paint removers, after shaking the can or bottle, they are applied to a surface, and must then be left to sit for around 20 minutes. The paint will then begin to bubble and loosen from the surface, at which point a scraper can be used to remove the loose paint.

(Video) How to: Strip paint like a Pro - 4 different ways to strip paint off of wood.

This may take two or three applications depending on the thickness and quality of the paint. Generally, to remove the remaining bits of paint, some steel wool dipped in mineral spirits can be used.

Heat Gun vs. Chemical Paint Remover: Which to Use? - Handyman's World (3)

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Heat Gun to Remove Paint

As is the case with any type of product or paint removal method available to you, there are certain pros and cons to consider when using a heat gun to strip paint from a surface. Let’s take a look at why you might want to try this method, as well as why not.

Advantage #1: It’s Economical

One of the biggest benefits of using a heat gun to strip paint from a surface is that it is very economical.

With a heat gun, you only need a single unit to complete the task no matter how large the area that paint needs to be removed from. Moreover, even the best heat guns out there do not cost very much, and once you have it, it’s a tool that will last for years to come, as long as you treat it right.

Advantage #2: It’s Fast and Easy

Another benefit of using heat guns for paint removal is that they work very quickly and are easy to use.

All you have to do is set the desired temperature and then point and shoot at the paint. It takes only a few seconds of holding a heat gun in front of paint at high temperatures for the paint to come loose. You can hold the heat gun in one hand while holding the paint scraper in the other, thus allowing for fast paint removal.

Advantage #3: It’s Not Messy or Poisonous

Heat guns also come with another big advantage, which is that they are not very messy to use. Besides the paint being stripped, there is no other mess created.

Moreover, the hot air coming out of the heat gun is not poisonous in any way.

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Advantage #4: It Can Deal with Thick Layers

The other big advantage of using heat guns for paint stripping is that they work well on thick and multiple layers of paint.

The thicker the layers, the longer you can point the gun at them.

Heat Gun vs. Chemical Paint Remover: Which to Use? - Handyman's World (4)

Disadvantage #1: You Can Burn Yourself

One of the main drawbacks of heat guns is that they can cause skin burns.

If you point it at yourself even just for a second, you can get burned, and quite easily.

Disadvantage #2: You Can Burn the Wood

Perhaps the biggest drawback of heat guns for paint stripping is that if you hold the heat gun in one place for too long, you can scorch and blacken the wood.

Furthermore, if you hold a heat gun to dry wood for too long, there is a chance that the wood may actually catch on fire.

Disadvantage #3: It Only Covers a Small Area

Although heat guns do strip paint from small areas quickly, that jet of heat is quite narrow, so if you need to strip paint from a large surface, it’s going to take a while.

Disadvantage #4: It Cannot Be Used with Some Paints

If you are stripping really old paint that contains lead, you cannot use a heat gun, because inhaling hot lead fumes is super hazardous to health.

(Video) DIY: How to strip paint with a heat gun

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Chemical Paint Remover

Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using chemical paint removers.

Advantage #1: It’s Great for Lead-Based Paint

Heat guns cannot be used for lead-based paint due to the fumes created when it is heated. This is why chemical paint removers are best for lead-based paint.

Advantage #2: It’s Great for Water-Based Paint

Heat guns also don’t work too well on water-based paint, but chemical paint removers definitely do.

Advantage #3: It’s Great for Larger Areas

Heat guns are great at removing paint quickly, but only for relatively small areas, whereas with a good brush, you can slap on a whole lot of chemical paint remover onto a large space, all at once.

Disadvantage #1: It’s Hazardous

Chemical paint strippers, as you could imagine, contain some harsh ingredients. These are not safe to inhale, they are not safe to touch your skin, and they definitely are not eco-friendly either. The fumes can even be carcinogenic, and in some cases fatal.

As such, it is super important to wear some kind of mask or respirator when using these, and they really are not intended for indoor use. You need great ventilation when working with this stuff.

Disadvantage #2: It’s Costly

Simply put, chemical paint strippers, even small cans, are expensive, and they will only get you so far, so you will have to keep buying more.

Heat guns are far more economical.

Disadvantage #3: It’s Messy

The other disadvantage to consider with chemical paint removers is that they are messy. They will stain clothes, they can get everywhere, and when the paint gets all thin and bubbles up, that’s messy too.

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When you use chemical paint removers, you need to wear old clothes and you need to have plenty of rags nearby for cleanup.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

In all reality, a paint gun is going to be the better option for you, but not always.

Let’s discuss why.

Heat guns are great for small surface areas, but can also be used on larger areas, as long as you have time to spare. Moreover, heat guns work really well at stripping multiple and thick layers of paint. Next, heat guns are super economical, not to mention that they are eco-friendly and won’t create poisonous fumes either. Heat guns can also be used both indoors and outdoors.

Now, they do come with a risk of scorching the wood, but if you are careful, this should not happen.

On the other hand, if you need to remove water- or lead-based paint, a heat gun just won’t work, thus leaving the chemical remover as your next best option. Chemical removers do also work well on large surface areas because you can apply a lot at once, but that said, they are expensive and ridiculously hazardous to health and the environment.

Therefore, unless you are dealing with lead-based paint, you are outdoors with good ventilation, and willing to wear some serious protective gear, not to mention willing to deal with the environmental impacts, we do not recommend using chemical paint strippers.

If a heat gun is not an option for you, but you also don’t want to use chemical paint removers, there are some other options at your disposal including green (eco-friendly) paint strippers, steam, pressure washing, and sanding.


The bottom line is that in most cases, a heat gun is going to be the better, safe, and cheaper option for removing paint, as opposed to expensive and extremely dangerous chemical paint strippers.

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